Texas bills focus on elderly drivers

| Thursday, March 29, 2007

Elderly drivers in Texas would face increased scrutiny under legislation advancing at the state Capitol.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require drivers at age 79 to take a vision test to renew their personal or commercial driver’s licenses. The licenses would be valid for six years – the same as current law.

Sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill – SB180 – also would require drivers to renew their licenses every two years after they turn 85. In addition, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety would have the authority to order driving tests.

Renewal fees would be $10 for personal driver’s licenses and $25 for CDLs.

Figures from the Department of Public Safety indicate there are nearly 158,000 licensed drivers ages 85 to 90 in the state. Nearly 250,000 drivers are older than that, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Carona’s bill isn’t the only legislative effort to increase scrutiny on elderly drivers in the state. House lawmakers voted 115-10 to approve a companion bill – HB84 – that would allow those drivers a few more years before being required to pass vision tests to renew their licenses. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the bill would require drivers to take the test at age 90.

Drivers older than 90 would have their license expire two years after the issue date.

Opponents say it is unfair to focus solely on older drivers. Supporters point to studies by insurance companies that show some seniors 80 and older can become high-risk drivers. Sight and responsiveness are cited for the deterioration in driving ability.

“We’re trying to balance the need for independence for many of our senior citizens with their safety and safety of others on the road,” Branch told The Morning News.

Both bills have been forwarded to the other chamber for further consideration. A compromise will need to be negotiated between the two chambers to enact stricter rules.

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